Hundreds of African migrants who marched out of the Holot detention facility in Israel’s Negev Desert Friday camped out in the Nitzana Forest on Saturday after they were turned back at the Egyptian border.
The migrants, who trekked to the Nitzana border crossing on Friday, were forced to spend the night in the forest after IDF border guards would not let them cross.
By Saturday afternoon, they had erected a protest camp in the forest, complete with a mobile clinic set up by Doctors for Human Rights and a mass morning prayer session led by Eritrean Christian faith leaders from Tel Aviv.
As they protested Israel’s detention policies and waited for the government to respond to their demands, Israeli activists brought the migrants food and water and helped them set up the makeshift tent city.
Meanwhile, on Saturday morning, another group of migrants left Holot to join the first group, which numbers about a thousand.
IDF soldiers and police forces were stationed at the crossing in order to prevent the migrants from exiting the country illegally for Egypt.
The march was organized in protest of the Israeli government’s policy of holding illegal African migrants for long periods at the Holot facility.
The protesters also cited Israeli authorities failure to determine whether the migrants qualified for refugee status or not.
In recent months, detainees at Holot, mostly asylum-seekers from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia, have stepped up demonstrations against Israel’s migrant policies.
The government, however, has said that it does not plan to change its policies toward migrants and insists that most of them are illegal migrants who have come to Israel seeking to work, not true asylum-seekers.
Holot, which opened last year as a facility to hold the migrants pending their deportation, houses 2,400 people. Migrants are sent there by order of Israel’s Interior Ministry.
Over the past week-and-a-half, 2,000 of the Holot detainees chose not to report to authorities at Holot, despite being required to do so three times a day, Haaretz reported.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.